The Price of a World Cup Victory

As the World Cup enters its second week, analysts have been poring over statistics trying to determine which teams will take the remaining slots in the Knockout Stage. But among the win-loss records, shot completions, and goalie saves, one important statistic is often left out: the GDP of the country represented.
Data analysis by the HPR has revealed that there is a significant association between GDP per capita and the number of wins a country accrues during the World Cup. There is not a correlation between the two in the traditional sense—knowing a country’s GDP per capita will not yield a reliable prediction about how it will fare in the World Cup.
Rather, for each marginal win, the results suggest that there is a minimum GDP per capita “cutoff” necessary for a country to be able to achieve that win. But once that cutoff is met, there is no significant relationship between additional wealth and a higher likelihood of achieving the marginal win. Setting aside the undefeated 2002 Brazil team and the 2002 Senegal team (who slightly outperformed predictions based on their GDP), this cutoff increases with each win.

Hover over a point in the chart for more details.

Each World Cup team from the 2002, 2006, and 2010 tournaments is plotted with their log GDP per capita and number of wins. The match between the semifinal losers does not count towards wins, as these wins do not indicate advancement in the tournament. North Korea, which does not have a reported GDP, is excluded. GDP per capita is measured in 2012 U.S. dollars, as reported by the World Bank.

On average, going from one win’s GDP cutoff to the next requires an increase of $465 per capita, though these gaps get larger as the number of wins increases. To make it through the Group Stage into the Knockout Stage, a team needs an average of 1.79 wins out of three games. As determined by logistic regression, this requires a GDP of $984 per capita, which is 9.37 percent of the U.S. per capita GDP. To advance to the finals, which requires on average 5.17 wins out of six games, a country needs a per capita GDP of at least $18,548, which is 35.84 percent of that of the United States.
What does this mean for the 2014 World Cup? These cutoffs do not disqualify any team from making it into the Knockout Stage. However, many teams are not, by this measure, able to make it to the finals. Of the teams that have not yet been mathematically eliminated, the Netherlands, Japan, Greece, Italy, France, Switzerland, the United States, Portugal, Belgium, and South Korea are the only countries that meet the $18,548 cutoff.
With two of the favorites to win the tournament, Brazil and Argentina, below the threshold at $11,339 and $11,573 respectively, it is quite possible that this model could experience an upset, much like it did in 2002 with Brazil’s 7-0 record. Fortunately for them, there is more to soccer than money.
Featured Image Source: The Guardian

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